Shining a Light on History — By Carlos Moreno

Big Picture Learning
Big Picture Learning
4 min readJun 1, 2021


I’ve heard that summer tends to sneak up on you in the Midwest. Many days in late May can feel like a pleasant spring morning and on the next day, almost like a light switch, the heat lands on you out of nowhere. But without air conditioning, the only thing you can do is take to the streets. If you’re seven-year-old Viola Fletcher, you might be treated to a sweet treat at the East End Doughnut shop before heading down the street to take in a picture show with your family at Greenwood Avenue’s world class Dreamland Theatre. And then the world might change.

Viola Fletcher is 107 years old now; spunky, but made poor by a single event that has forever shaped her life. But still willing to shine a light through personal testimony in front of Congress and the world about what it was like to live through and survive the Tulsa Massacre of 1921.

As part of her testimony, Fletcher stated: “I have lived through this massacre every day. Our country may forget this history, but I cannot.”

In many ways, this is a kind outlook by Ms. Fletcher. The act of forgetting is mostly a gradual one. Memories fade from existence with the passage of time. What happened with Tulsa isn’t the forgetting of history. It was an outright obfuscation. A straight up white-washing!

Many give credit, rightly so, to the HBO series Watchmen for bringing the Tulsa Race Massacre back into the light through a first-person cinematic experience in which the viewer can’t help but feel the horror of that fateful day. HBO’s Lovecraft Country uses similar screencraft, bringing yet more light to the story of the destruction of Black Wall Street through the spectrum of the supernatural. Combine these shows with an outstanding new interactive article from The New York Times, What the Tulsa Race Massacre Destroyed” — which literally walks the reader through the streets of Greenwood putting faces and names to the businesses and livelihoods destroyed — and you find yourself surrounded by the deliberate practice of empathy, with compassion hopefully to follow.

In order to bring forgotten memories back to life, you have to give them light. And you must always give them color.

We have to find ways to help people associate past experiences with their present ones. After all, the story of Tulsa isn’t just the story of Tulsa. It’s not even just the story of lost history. It’s the story of the deliberate practices that lead to lost history itself. And it’s as much the story of today as it was the story of 100 years ago.

We’re currently seeing legislation spring up all over the country banning the teaching of critical race theory. Even in Oklahoma. Such legislation prohibits educators from talking about how societal construction — whether it be through redlining, highway construction, grant lending, voter suppression, etc. — has inherently and systemically been built upon racist (and, we should say, sexist) practices; sometimes unconsciously, often intentionally. Which begs the question: can we simultaneously commemorate and ignore the lessons of Tulsa?

I recently had the privilege to interview New York Times investigative journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, creator of The 1619 Project and founder of the Ida B. Wells Society. Yes, we touched upon The 1619 Project itself, but an important part of our discussion was about the idea of grace. The fear many have is that in teaching critical race theory, our students will be divided, driven apart, resorted to finger pointing and calling each other racists.

The opposite is true. If we learn our history by learning our more full history, we have the opportunity to course correct, learn from each other’s experiences, and proceed onward with grace. When you know your true history, you know your power!

Since that conversation Ms. Jones has been offered and then had rescinded a tenured professorship at the University of North Carolina. It’s worth mentioning that, also since that conversation, Ms. Jones has announced not only the publication of The 1619 Project book (and accompanying children’s book, Born on the Water) but also a corresponding docuseries, produced by Oprah Winfrey.

Is racism part of America’s origin story? No doubt. Is racism part of America’s story today? For sure. Efforts to legislate against this truth are themselves racist acts. Once the light has been turned on, we should be wary of those wishing to extinguish it anew.

Viola Fletcher was joined in her testimony by her brother, Hughes Van Ellis, 100 and Lessie Benningfield Randle, 106. Together, they’re the three remaining survivors of the Tulsa Massacre and well-deserving of the commemoration bestowed upon them on this hollowed anniversary. Bless them all. It shouldn’t take 100 years to shine a light on historical events that continue to shape the events of our lives today. Nor should the burden of reliving and stoking these memories be shouldered by folks who were mere children at the time.

Let us use the lessons of Tulsa. Of Greenwood. Of the Dreamland Theatre and of Dr. A.C. Jackson, who was America’s most prominent Black surgeon at the time and who was reportedly (and all too familiarly) fatally shot while surrendering with this hands in the air. To fight back against efforts laying the foundation for the gradual forgetting of history. Let’s use these lessons to activate against those who wish to ensure that history continues to be taught through restricted perspectives, rose colored glasses and limited and inaccurate threads of information.

Let’s use these lessons to live through grace.

To let the light shine. May we continue to fight to keep it lit.



Big Picture Learning
Big Picture Learning

Working to put students at the center of their own learning, for over 20 years.